The Overdub Tampering Committee

By RYAN WALSH  |  February 15, 2012


The story attracted press coverage almost immediately.

"It is an impressive prank that could indeed help generate a bit of chit chat about the pros and cons of downloading music, as well as what the music biz needs to do to control and utilize this method of picking up new tunes," said Fader. "Perhaps simply knowing that you're not listening to the true version of a record could be enough to get your cheap ass over to your local record shop or online retailer to pick up the CD."

Idolator wrote, "Man, if this is true — and not the initial step of some annoying viral Web Sheriff promotion (or even an RIAA thing, although they do take time out from their manifesto to LOL at MediaDefender) — these guys are my new heroes."

We were ecstatic. I had secretly harbored the prediction that the OTC manifesto would encounter universal, immediate dismissal. But there it was: two music publications that I regularly read had already treated the manifesto as actual news. That day's e-mail messages fell into one of the following categories:

1_ HATE MAIL "Dear douche bags! It has recently come to my attention that you (your boys club) have been screwing around with newly released albums from artists, i only have a few line to say about that . . . your way of fucking things up is the only way that you get a sense of purpose with your meaningless lives. Help the world out and go kill yourselves."

2_ INTERVIEW REQUESTS "I'd love to talk to you guys about your project for a writeup on my site, _________ [generally, a blog about technology, piracy, and Web culture]. When are you available to talk? Would you mind being interviewed by instant messenger? (Protects your anonymity while still allowing for more flexibility in interviewing.)

3_ OFFERS TO ASSIST / CASUAL REQUESTS FOR DRUGS "#1 — How can I help? — I'm a musician with an assload of recording gear and free time. #2 — Will you be releasing a list of what albums have been "subtly added to" — I have myself noticed a few things in my collection that are not the studio album and would like to confirm . . . #3 — WTF were you dudes smoking when you thought this up — and can I have some?"

4_ SUGGESTIONS FOR IDEAS OR ORGANIZATIONS WE SHOULD ENDORSE "This is a fantastic opportunity to bring attention to the Creative Commons, which I think is a step in the right direction for the music industry. This probably has already crossed your mind but thought I'd pipe up with my two cents."

The members of the Overdub Tampering Committee all chatted via e-mail that night. I went to bed wondering just how far this could go without serious real-world repercussions.

I woke up with an e-mail in my inbox from New York Times music writer Jon Pareles. It merely read, "A scintilla of evidence would be nice." In a way, I was relieved. If one e-mail unsupported by any empirical evidence had trotted onto the pages of the New York Times without so much as a whimper of protest, my despair for the state of the media would've hit rock bottom. But at the same time, I wanted to take my hypothesis as far as I could take it. I wrote back:

Jon, Thanks for your e-mail. We won't be providing any more evidence than what is presented in the manifesto. We know what we've done, we've had fun doing it, and now it's in the public's hands. We don't believe the burden of proof lays on our shoulders. Part of our goal with the project was that no one would ever know for sure how many albums we worked on, which ones, or if they resided in your digital music collection. Often times proof is nothing more than general public consensus. We are considering confirming or denying examples if people want to offer them up. But we're not sure yet.

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